I'm learning that living life well is so much about expectations; and expectations are shaped by how you view life. Your mental picture about what life is and is supposed to be really determines your life experience. If you have a faulty view, you end up with a faulty life. Your experience matches your picture.
What does it take to be a great leader in an era when the winds of global and local change are blowing in gale force, where the world is so interconnected that when you make a decision someone on the other side of the world is affected? Leadership has never been easy. There have always been challenges. But these days, the difficulties seem to be uniquely immense. Which means leadership isn't for the faint of heart. It's not just about competence and intelligence.
I joined Lumosity this year--the web site that has exercises and games designed to strengthen your brain (based upon the latest neuroscience research). I'm at the age (and with some family history) where I'm thinking more about how to be intentional about how my brain functions best and how to keep it operating at maximum efficiency and effectiveness. As I perform these exercises regularly, I am actually charting my improvement in memory, problem-solving, speed, attention, flexibility. It's been fun and rewarding.
How would you rate your performance on a day to day basis? I'm talking about how you're performing in the various areas of your life--your work, your significant relationships, your spirituality, other areas. Are you satisfied with your progress? Discontented? Proud? Ashamed? Indifferent? Maybe you don't even think about it? Or when you do, you feel guilty for not doing more?
I've noticed that for so many of us how we're doing isn't a huge reflection theme. People tend to allow themselves to be on "autopilot"--they just do what they need to do and, most of the time, when they need to do it. No real thought. Just do it.
Others of us do reflect or evaluate ourselves. But our focus tends to be negative evaluation--we never quite measure up to our expectations or what we think others expect of us. So we often feel guilty or less than--especially when we compare ourselves to others.
But we can't allow the meaning we attach to self-evaluation to keep us from the practice of self-evaluation.
Why? Because without self-reflection, we can never improve or gain momentum or achieve our deepest desires. We'll never accurately identify what it is that needs improvement.
Instead of letting our focus fixate on how we feel about how we're doing, we need to be willing to honestly look at our progress and then make strategic choices to learn and move forward more effectively.
I read a significant piece of research about what qualities set apart the most successful people from the rest (based upon surveying 50,286 360-degree evaluations conducted over the last five years on 4,158 individual contributors). I'm finding this to be true with the clients I work with, too. The research identifies 9 skills. I'm going to list the top two qualities ranked in that order--the top two skills that make the most difference.
#1--Set stretch goals and adopt high standards for yourself.
I'm finding that this is a theme many people just don't entertain. Stretch goals.
The challenge is that this skill assumes that you are already establishing goals for yourself in the first place (which is, by the way, vital to maximizing your entire experience of life).
What is it specifically that you really want to do in your life? How do you want to utilize and apply the strengths you have in your life? What specific things do you want to accomplish so that when you do reach those goals you actually know it, you can measure it, you can see it? If you don't know what you're wanting, then you can never know when you've gotten it. Right?
But this number one distinguishing behavior goes even beyond that. It's taking wants, desires, goals to the next level--stretching those standards for yourself; pushing yourself to go beyond where you've gone before.
For example. In my last month, I've set some big stretch goals for myself. I first made a list of people I know in corporations, businesses, organizations, and churches. I identified specific contacts I have within those groups. My goal: send them my strengths coaching one sheet that describes the work I do with leaders, teams, and groups in maximizing people and multiplying performance.
This is a good goal. But in itself, it isn't a stretch goal. So I actually took the next bolder step by stating: I'm going to make 3 contacts every day (15-20 every week). I've never been that intentional before in this area, giving myself numeric contact goals.
I can tell you, doing these stretch goals have created more energy and more forward momentum for me in this part of my work. I can measure my progress on the spreadsheet I developed to chart this process. I can evaluate what's working and what's not working and then make necessary changes to my process. And it also holds me accountable.
QUESTIONS: When is the last time you feel like you really stretched yourself, pushed yourself to a bigger or higher level/standard? Do you know what that would look like in any area of your life? Have you stated some expectations for yourself that go beyond what's normal for you or beyond where you've gone before or even beyond what others think you can do? What would that look like specifically?
Successful people have learned the strategic significance of working with other people in order to accomplish their big goals.
Successful people don't operate under the delusion that they have to make everything great in their lives happen by themselves.
Successful people don't buy into the omni-competent superman myth. They have developed a humble, honest, confident perspective about themselves that recognizes they don't have all the strengths needed to be successful.
So they bring others into their daily orbit who can contribute in the areas of their personal gaps, complementing their strengths with strengths they don't themselves possess.
For example. To achieve my own stretch goals I shared above, I realized that I couldn't do this on my own. I needed to collaborate with others. This is an area of growth for me.
So I chose not to begin with cold calls (although there's nothing wrong with cold calling and I will perhaps end up doing that, too). I began with people I already know and who know me, people who respect what I can contribute and who are willing to step forward and make connections for me.
For example. My wife Shasta is one of the most productive and effective people I know. She uses her strengths in remarkable and maximizing ways to accomplish so much good in the world. She sets stretch goals all the time.
Consequently, she is also very strategic and smart in how she goes about meeting her stretch goals. She collaborates and networks with a wide range of people. She has developed a large team of people in her life who believe in her and what she's trying to do and are willing to use their strengths to help her. She asks for their help. This collaborative mentality empowers her to accomplish way more than she could on her own.
I find this skill to be hugely significant for all my clients if they are going to be effective in moving their lives forward toward what they're truly wanting for themselves.
If you want to stretch, you have to collaborate.
QUESTIONS: So ask yourself, who are people you know who could contribute their skills and strengths to helping you accomplish some of your big goals? Would you be willing to ask them to collaborate with you? Would you honor their strengths by asking for their specific contribution in your life? Are there identifiable steps with your goals that you could actually delegate to someone else?
At the end of one of my coaching sessions recently, my client remarked, "Man, this process is so valuable for me. I haven't done this much reflection, evaluation, and strategizing for my life ever. I love the momentum I'm feeling and seeing. I actually think I'm going to make my vision for my life happen!"
That's the power of practicing strategic reflection and evaluation about what matters most in life. You start moving there. And in the end, isn't that what we all truly want for ourselves--to know where there is and to get there well?
If you'd like to have a short phone call to talk with me about how this could work in your life, email me. I'm happy to arrange that call with you.
Looking for a Speaker or Coach?
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in strengths coaching? Feel free to email me at email@example.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.
Research on Effective Leadership Styles Important research these days is revealing some significant trends in how people are thinking about leadership, the style they want to see in their leaders, and what style is proving to be the most effective in solving today's complex global problems.
Gone are the days where the macho approach is looked up to as the savior of our problems. That current track record speaks for itself.
Qualities to Move Away From. "Everywhere, people are frustrated by a world long dominated by codes of male thinking and behavior: Codes of control, aggression and black- and-white thinking that have contributed to many of the problems we face today, from wars and income inequality to reckless risk-taking and scandal."*
Qualities to Embody More of. Instead, says a growing body of academic and industry research, "senior executives around the world and across industries put qualities such as collaboration, creativity, flexibility, empathy, patience, humility and balance right at the top of the list of crucial leadership characteristics for the future."**
Soft Vs. Hard. There are those in our culture who still choose to see these qualities as "soft" versus "hard" - they can't embrace them as truly significant to the bottom line of productivity and financial sustainability and growth - they see these qualities as luxuries at best, and perhaps curriculum to be relegated to Human Resources department if at all.
This leads to a tragic sidelining of what is increasingly showing to be more effective in the long run in addressing the fundamental needs of our organizations and markets with their complex, global, and interconnected challenges. This short-sighted and biased view continues to do damage on multiple layers of our human systems and organizations. Productivity and engagement are at all-time lows in our country.
In contrast, natural biologists are providing us with powerful examples of how the more relational and collaborative qualities are in fact hard-wired in the natural world to powerful effect. My last blog post described birch trees and rhododendrons in a symbiotic relationship.
Here's another: take the barheaded geese, for example.
Learning From Barheaded Geese
It’s estimated that at least 50,000 of them winter in India. And when summer nears, they undertake the two month 5000 mile migration back to their home in Central Asia. What makes this trip remarkable is that the route they choose to take every year is the world’s steepest migratory flight—they fly over the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in the Himalayas.
Amazingly, this route is where the air is thinnest and oxygen level lowest. What’s more, the thinner air means that less lift is generated when the birds flap their wings, thereby increasing the energy costs of flying by around 30 per cent. And yet they still fly the same route over the highest place on earth. Imagine it!
Scientists now find that these geese do not make use of tailwinds or updrafts that could give them a boost up the mountain. One of the remarkable resources they choose instead to rely upon is teamwork---collaboration.
Drafting. Geese are famous for utilizing in flight the V-formation which helps reduce individual energy consumption by up to 30%. Professional cyclists use the same principle that empowers them to sustain high energy and power for endurance races like the Tour de France (over 2000 miles in 21 days). Drafting.
The whole flock of geese gets over 70% better mileage than if each bird flew solo. When the lead bird gets weary, it drops back and a new one takes the lead. As the birds vigorously flap their wings, it creates lift for the bird behind. These geese actually choose to fly over Mt. Everest at one time rather than breaking up the trip, typically a grueling eight hour marathon.
And in addition, if one of the geese gets too tired or gets injured or sick, two of the other geese shepherd the weaker one back down to the ground and stay with it until it either gets stronger or dies. Then they rejoin the group or find another group to fly with to complete their migration.
Clearly, there is no physical way these birds could soar over Mt. Everest without this kind of drafting, teamwork, and collaboration. Forget it!
And yet so many of us individuals, including many organizations that insist on a few at the top within hierarchical structures possessing all the power, continue to assault our Everests ineffectively.
The Qualities That Make A Difference
What social science and organizational effectiveness research is telling us these days is that similarly there is no way we can scale the Mt. Everest-sized global challenges we face without prioritizing and valuing these same qualities: teamwork, collaboration, empathy, nurturing, loyalty.
The days of the solo leader (or small group of men who conduct the business war games and deals in the backroom), projecting an omnicompetent ability, standing at the top of the hierarchy of power, position, and status, omniscient in wisdom, who has only to speak and command the vision, strategy, and way forward, are gone (or should be gone).
"In the new economy ‘winning’ is becoming a group construct: Masculine traits like aggression and independent trail the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit. And being loyal (which is feminine) is more valued than being proud (which is masculine), which points to being devoted to the cause rather than one’s self. And that we want our leaders to be more intuitive—(also feminine)—speaks to the lack of many leaders to have the capacity to relate to ordinary people and their points of view."*
We have to intentionalize systems and structures that help us rely on each other, where everyone is empowered to contribute their best strengths, where organizational and team health is seen to be as important as ROI and the financial bottomline, where we mentor others and stand beside them to support their growing development, where we manifest patience and empathy instead of "get it or leave here" attitude, where we employ technicolor instead of black-or-white thinking to our problems.
If we want to soar over our Mt. Everests, we will choose to be more like the barheaded geese.
* The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, Michael D'Antonio & John Gerzema.
** Gayle Peterson, associate fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and co-director of its Women Transforming Leadership program, "We Don't Need A Hero, We Just Need More Women At the Top" (The Guardian, Nov. 13, 2013)
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our lives are made up of multiple social systems: families, marriages, work, businesses, corporations, churches, friendship circles, clubs. Like the natural world, these are all ecosystems where everything is inter-related and therefore everything is impacted by the other. There was a fascinating and insightful Linkedin article this week that used examples from nature to describe effective ways we humans can live within our social ecosystems (see "4 Bio-Inspired Tips to Create Better Teams" by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO). Several of his biology illustrations particularly stood out for me as I work with people and groups in guiding them to a more strengths-based way of living and being. Here's one of them.
Biologists are finding that
"successful organisms tend to collaborate more than compete."
Birch Trees and Rhododendrons. For example, birch trees and rhododendrons grow close by each other in the woods, not by accident but for specific purpose. "The birch provides shade to the rhododendron, keeping it from drying out. The rhododendron, in turn, provides the birch with defensive molecules that protect it from being eaten by insects. This symbiotic relationship allows both to survive longer."
A Win-Lose World. It's amazing how competitive our human social systems so often are. We've developed this win-lose paradigm: if I win, someone else has to lose; if someone else wins, that means I automatically lose.
So in this win-lose ecosystem, we end up having to protect ourselves all the time. Our walls are up. Our distrust is high. We're ready to fight to win. Because at stake is our own survival--there's only one winner.
Our conversations devolve into arguments where we all try to win. If we don't, we feel less than; we've been bested; we're losers. So we have to win at all costs.
If a friend gets promoted, we feel like we've lost something. If our significant other gets recognition, we feel like we've lost, we're diminished. If someone else's child gets into the best school and our's doesn't, we've lost, they've won. We're less than, they're more.
A Win-Win World. But imagine if we could live within our social ecosystems like the birch trees and the rhododendrons--in collaboration where there's a win-win belief and goal and worldview; where we come to each other bringing our best strengths to the system; where we each are contributing our best to each other; where we each embrace and trust the best from each other; where we stay with it long enough to work at developing a win-win outcome, refusing to take the win-lose easy way out.
A Strengths-based Approach. Imagine collaborative marriage relationships where each situation, need, and goal is approached via both spouse's top strengths. When a problem is being addressed, you ask your spouse for a "10 minute consult" where he/she uses his/her specific strengths (one or several that you might not have) in order to help bring effective resolution. Rather than competing, you collaborate; where you approach the relationship and experience mutually instead of hierarchically. Imagine that.
Imagine developing your specific roles based upon your strengths profile, whether in a marriage, family, work team, congregation; where everyone is asked, encouraged, validated, and affirmed to show up with their best; where people spend more time and energy focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses and deficiencies; where whatever gaps might exist in the relationship, they are overcome with each person leveraging his/her strengths together to effectively overwhelm the gap.
The genius of a strengths-based approach to life is that it's based upon the truth that no one of us is omnicompetent. We as individuals simply cannot do everything. We need others if we desire to truly be effective. We need everyone in our social systems to contribute their best strengths so that all together we can be as strong as possible. That's what creates a win-win.
Collaboration is a prerequisite for healthy ecosystems!
So are you living with a win-win or win-lose belief system? Which lens do you tend to look at your life situations through? Who do you need to collaborate more with from a place of mutual strengths in order to live more effectively?
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. Feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Chinese Taoism has a very powerful paradigm that explains the dynamics of effective living. In my opinion, this paradigm is becoming increasingly significant in order to chart an effective way forward in the 21st century. Yin-Yang Paradigm
It's called the Yin and the Yang. Yin-Yang is used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are in fact interconnected and interdependent and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (instead of opposing) forces interacting to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, (for instance shadow cannot exist without light). That's why you notice, in the symbol for Yin-Yang, that each part has the other (small dot) within it.
Describing Yin and Yang
"Yang is the white side with the black dot on it, and yin is the black side with the white dot on it. The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley. Yin (literally the 'shady place' or 'north slope') is the dark area occluded by the mountain's bulk, while yang (literally the 'sunny place' or 'south slope') is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed." (Wikipedia)
Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cool and refreshing, wet, and reflective; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime.
Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.
Yin-Yang Implications for the 21st Century
So how does this fit in with my last blog post about the Athena Doctrine?
One, The authors, in their extensive global research*, have found that more and more people in our 21st century are being drawn to a different-than-usual way of living and working and being in the world. They're realizing for our world to achieve its potential for wholeness and transformation, both Yin and Yang need to be expressed, validated, and incorporated.
Two, for much of history, there has been a Yang path forward--predominantly masculine, where aggression, power, win-lose, dominance have ruled the day. The Yin, more feminine part of life, has been devalued and considered "too soft" to be effective at the forefront of and in the halls of influence in a world filled with conflict, enemies, survival and growth.
Three, and yet, as the authors of The Athena Doctrine are pointing out from their extensive research, the majority of people (66%) representing countries around the world are saying that for the world to achieve its full potential, the Yin side--more feminine qualities--needs to be brought to the forefront.
Four, the powerful piece to this is that people aren't saying it's an "either/or" proposition--throw out all the men and bring in all the women. Rather, it's a "both/and" necessity.
A World of Complementarity Instead of Opposition
Here's the way the authors describe it:
"People seek a more expressive style of leader who shares feelings more openly and honestly as well as patience and reason to break gridlock. We also want long term thinkers who can dig in and plan for the future. The more masculine qualities like decisiveness and resilience are important, but so is being flexible in order to build consensus and get things done. Also, in the new economy winning is becoming a group construct: masculine traits like aggression and independent trail the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit. And being loyal (which is feminine) is more valued than being proud (which is masculine), which point to being devoted to the cause rather than one's self. And that we want our leaders to be more intuitive--(also feminine)--speaks to the lack of many leaders to have the capacity to relate to ordinary people and their points of view."
The central facet of Yin-Yang is the emphasis on the interconnectedness of life, one cannot exist without the other, both are complementary to each other rather than opposing forces, interacting to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts. For this to occur, both sides have to be equally valued in the shifting seasons and shadows of life.
The Necessity of Addressing a Historical Imbalance
There has been a sad imbalance of this equation for much of history. And the tragic results of this are evident everywhere: violence, gridlock, greed for power-status-wealth, economic injustice, aggression, win-lose, lack of compassion, us again them mentality, being right is more important than being in relationship.
This has to change if we are going to experience a world where everyone has an equal place at the table with equal opportunities, and where we steward our natural resources in sustainable ways, all built upon a foundation of mutual honor, respect, worth, and empathy.
It's time to place inordinate value upon the feminine characteristics and ways of thinking and being as central to our path forward. It's time to place more women and men who think like them at positions of influence in charting our path forward. It's time to shape a global rather than tribal world based upon the value of interconnectedness and dynamic complementarity in navigating our path forward. It's time to honor both Yin and Yang together and empower both to work interdependently in building an effective path forward.
The future and quality of our world depend upon it.
*The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the World, John Gerzema & MichaeL D’Antonio
My friend Jaime awhile back sent me this story. “A little boy was having difficulty lifting a heavy stone. His father came along just then. Noting the boy's failure, he asked, 'Are you using all your strength?' 'Yes, I am,' the little boy said impatiently. 'No, you are not,' the father answered. 'I am right here just waiting, and you haven't asked me to help you.'"
The more I reflect on my own life and listen to so many people talk about theirs, I'm struck by the truth that it is easy for us to get so caught up in our individual challenges--we're so lost in the weeds of our own lives, or so focused on lifting the heavy stones--we don't notice and take advantage of people around us who would be willing to support us if we just asked.
Ten Minute Consult
In my strengths coaching at Amazon Lab 126, one of the ways I encouraged teams to utilize strengths that the team didn't possess was what I call "Ten Minute Consult." Call up someone in the department who isn't on your team but who has the strength you need and make the simple ask: "Hey, would you be willing to give us 10 minutes of consulting time? We're faced with a problem we really could use your strength to advise us with."
It's a simply strategy that doesn't require a lot of time. But it continues to build on one of the most important paradigms for effective living: collaboration.
Collaboration & Interdependence
I think it's a genius reality that none of us is omnicompetent, none of us possesses all the strengths as our top strength. It forces us to recognize our interdependence upon others.
Successful people rely upon others and their strengths to lift their heavy stones. They choose to live by the truism,
We are stronger together than by ourselves.
One of the outcomes of this willingness to collaborate is validation and affirmation. It feels good to be asked to contribute from your place of strength. It feels validating to have one of your strengths affirmed and needed.
Don't Choose For Someone - Ask
It's sad that so many of us hesitate asking others for help because we don't want to inconvenience them or make them feel pressured in some way. We essentially make the choice for them by simply not asking.
And yet, truth is, we've consequently robbed them of affirmation and validation and the reward of using their strengths in a positive, productive way. Why not let them decide? Why not trust them to know what they're wanting to do in any given moment and give them the opportunity to say Yes or No? Why not give them opportunity to contribute their strengths to yours?
When a therapist was asked for one piece of advice he could give based upon all the wisdom he had gleaned from counseling thousands of people through the years, he made the profound observation:
"Know what you want, and learn to ask for it."
So what heavy stones are you trying to lift these days?
What strengths do you need that you don't have to help you accomplish this?
Who is around you that you could ask to assist you?
Have you been saying No for them without even asking? What's stopping you?
It's time to schedule your next Ask. Why not do what successful people do and get some help with your heavy stone.